By Sherri Caldwell
Driving out from Tucson toward the Arizona-Mexico border, it's desert country. We were fresh off the plane from Atlanta, in our rented car, headed toward a week-long vacation--without kids!--at a remote guest ranch near the border. Although Russ normally drives, I was at the wheel because we had discovered at the airport--at the car rental counter--that Mr. Caldwell's driver's license was expired--by six months!
The Arizona scenery was breathtaking, so completely different than what we're used to on the east coast. We drove through a flat valley surrounded in the distance by rugged mountains, mostly bare of vegetation or trees. On the outskirts of Tucson, the hillsides are covered with Saguaro Cactus, the most familiar cactus with the large main trunk and bent arms reaching toward the sky. As you drive further out of Tucson, there is less and less of the Saguaro Cactus, but many other types of cactus, scrub and short, twisted trees we later found out are mesquite.
We saw a variety of Arizona wildlife on our drive. Further out of Tucson, the road narrows and the desert vegetation closes in. There is no shoulder to the side of the road, so everything grows--and crawls--right up to the edge of the road and over it, sometimes stopping right in the middle.
Our first interaction with the wildlife was ill-fated. I was driving along at 60 mph, and saw two birds on the left side of the road up ahead. This was the one time, early on, when there were actually other cars, well, one car, in sight--a silver Mercedes sedan was behind us about fifty yards. Now, I have been taught since I first started driving that animals in the road are secondary consideration to causing an accident with another car by stopping suddenly or swerving to avoid the animal--unless it's a very large animal that is likely to do a tremendous amount of damage. For the little critters, centering 'em is the safest strategy, survival of the fittest and all that. (I'm not saying this is a fair or noble strategy, just what I've been taught and tend to believe.)
I saw the birds as they started to cross the road, and I slowed down, but I figured when we got close enough, they would quit walking and fly on across the road or turn back, like all of the other birds I am familiar with from my years of driving experience. Unfortunately, I'm not familiar with Arizona bird logic. They didn't stop, fly or change direction. One made it across, but I'm sad to say I had to center the other one and we ran over it with a sickening crunch--the kind you don't need to go back and check. It was terrible.
Once we got close enough, and then tragically much too close, my husband, the bird expert, decided they were Road Runners, which apparently prefer to run rather than fly like other birds, even in life-threatening situations. My husband was impressed that I was able to accomplish in seconds what Wile E. Coyote has failed to achieve after years and years of chasing his Road Runner.
I kept hearing that crunch and thinking:
1) Road Runners are probably the Arizona State Bird and the people in the Mercedes, who are probably going to the same place we are, just saw me mow one over ruthlessly--probably a $50,000 fine at least?!
2) Whatever those birds were, they were together--probably one of those mate-for-life species--and I took out one of them, leaving the other standing back on the side of the road looking on in bird-horror, poor thing.
I was feeling pretty badly about the bird. My husband, who was enjoying the ride (and would have run over that bird without remorse), saw a large lizard at the side of the road shortly after the bird incident. I didn't, so I might have run over that too. He started giving me points.
And then there were the bugs--huge, evil-looking grasshoppers all over the road. Some were as big as mice, and they just sat there, or were rolling around cannibalizing each other (or something). In the shady spots, there were dozens of them. After the bird incident, I did my best to avoid the bugs, until it was suggested that I needed to quit swerving all over the road.
Fortunately, the silver Mercedes turned off miles and miles before we got to our very remote destination, so there were no witnesses to make a nasty scene at the ranch. Also fortunately, we did not fatally encounter any other wildlife (other than the big ugly bugs, which were unavoidable) during our stay in Arizona.
We did, however, bring back some wildlife of our own--Tiger Scott was born nine months later!
© 2003 Sherri L. Caldwell
and The Rebel Housewife, LLC.
All rights reserved.